Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Festival Treat from Kaesler

1907.  2012 Kaesler - Stonehorse GMS (Barossa Valley - Australia)

So, I find myself running into just a tiny, little problem nowadays. We don't exactly have any room in the cellar (such as our cellar is - a couple wine fridges, a closet, a spare bathroom tub and a stairwell) for new acquisitions. And, as much as I try to rein my buying habits and Boo tries to tighten the "No Buy Leash," there are always going to be occasions where I have no choice but to buy a new bottle or two. The annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is one such occasion.

As noted earlier in this blog, the theme region at this year's Festival was Australia and the Festival always has a number of wines available that aren't otherwise available in our market. As regular readers of the blog know, I readily admit that I have a jones for Aussie wines. So, needless to say, I didn't make things any easier on myself for space at home.

Since I didn't exactly have a spot for this bottle, I just decided to pull the cork - even though we have other bottles that likely should have been opened first.

I don't know much about Kaesler and their wines but I do recognize them from a couple of attendances at the Festival over the years. The vineyards and winery were founded by the Kaesler family in the 1890's and they operated the winery until 1986. The current owners purchased the winery in 1999 and have strived to take advantage of the premium lands and old vines ever since. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and the owners have expanded production into the Clare Valley and McLaren Vale (although those wines are released under the Clare Wine Co. and Nashwauk Vineyards banners respectively).

The Stonehorse is a classic Barossa GSM or Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre blend - although this is a GMS with the Grenache playing a major (80%) role and the Mourvèdre (17%) and Shiraz (3%) balancing out the blend. The Stonehorse is from Kaesler's entry level series and is a fruit forward, easily accessible wine. The winery did, however, bring a major treat to the Festival as well - if you were lucky enough to try the wine while they still had some to pour. Kaesler's flagship wine - Old Bastard - is a single vineyard Shiraz, made from some of the vines originally planted back in the 1890's by the Kaesler family. I would have loved to add a bottle of the Old Bastard to The List but, unfortunately, the wine wasn't for sale as they only make 500 cases and it retails for over $200 a bottle when it is available. I did get my picture taken with a bottle though as I've been called a similar name often enough. In fact, an acquaintance that happened to be at the Kaesler table at the same time I was there suggested that I could make the Old Bastard my "signature" wine. I should be so lucky.

I always wonder how the wines I pick up at the Festival are going to taste when I get them home. Luckily, it's not too often that I open a bottle at home and wonder what the heck I was thinking at the Festival. There was no such concern here. The Stonehorse remained a good sip - always a good sign.

Now I guess we just need to do some drinking to free up some more space for more purchases.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Rex Hill Pinot to Remember

Well, now that the Canucks have been knocked out of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, my evening TV viewing will certainly be freed up in the weeks to come. Looks like we'll probably move out of the BC Syrah for a bit seeing as how I made Syrah the theme wine for the Canuck/Flames series.

Now that I'm into the final 100 wines of this Wine Odyssey, I'm hoping to open a few bottles that we've been hiding away for awhile. Filling the glass with some Willamette Pinot seemed to be as good a place as any.

Our Vancouver market doesn't see a whole lot of Oregon wine available on general release at the government liquor stores. There might be a few wines in the specialty shops but I think you pretty much have to visit the private wine shops to find much in the way of selection and even those shops will likely have only a limited number of bottles to choose from. It's a shame given the proximity of Oregon to BC.

That being said, it's not too surprising that I don't have much of a grasp of Oregon wines. In light of that limited knowledge, it was an exciting time when I had a brief exposure to the region while attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference that was held in Portland. One of my favourite memories of WBC12 was our visit to the Willamette Valley. Conference attendees were asked to jump onto a bus not knowing what their destination would be. Turns out that I made a great choice - our bus ended up at Rex Hill winery where they teamed up with an assortment of their neighbours for a vineyard tour, cellar tasting and wine dinner in the winery's garden.

It certainly didn't hurt that, during our dinner at Rex Hill, we were treated to a taste of the 1992 Pinot Noir - poured from a 9-litre Salmanazar bottle. That's a whole case of standard size bottles poured into one.

The afternoon and evening left enough of an impression that I made sure that Rex Hill was one of the half dozen or so wineries that Boo and I visited when we had a chance to spend a day in the Willamette on our California road trip a couple of years later.

I don't think I've ever seen a bottle of Rex Hill for sale in Vancouver; so I'm happy that I was able to pick a couple bottles during those two visits.

1906.  2008 Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

The winery website says that 2008 was seen as "one of the finest vintages on record" at Rex Hill - "a vintage defined by the vineyard rather than the weather because each site developed fully to reveal their pedigree." The winery says that the '08 vintage should age gracefully for many years and we can attest to the fact that this bottle still had plenty of life to it. This was definitely a fruit-driven bottling but both Boo and I thought that the integration and complexity of the tannins and bright, dark cherry notes was both explosive and tasty. No doubt, the depth of flavours, in part, resulted from the fact that the Reserve Pinot is a blending of the winery's finest barrels from a variety of vineyards and blocks.

The estate vineyard, itself, is dry framed, using biodynamic farming practices. You can argue how big a part this decision may have played in the wine's profile but, in my mind at least, the dry farming should definitely result in reduced yields of more expressive grapes. Rex Hill was only established in 1982 and it saw a change in ownership in 2007 but the winery has concentrated on premium Pinot Noir since day one, with a small production of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. During my WBC12 visit, we were told that they produce around 10,000 cases - as opposed to 100,000 - and they strive to make the best use of the land while revitalizing and enhancing that soil with products and by-products that come from the same lands.

For me, this is New World Pinot at its best - and the wine's a worthy addition to the Odyssey's last choices for The List.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Knocked Out By A Bunch of Flamers

As our Aussie buddy, Merlot Boy, was quick to point out, "the Canucks got knocked out by a bunch of Flamers."

2006 Burrowing Owl Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

No wine in the glass. No number for The List. No more Canucks hockey this year. It was just that kind of a game.

The shot for the blog was actually taken the morning after - seeing as how the morning paper's headline had already announcing the demise of the Canucks' season - hence no wine in the glass. You may rest assured, however, that we finished off the bottle. Just like the Flames finished off the Canucks with a 7-4 score in the game and a 4-2 series win in the best-of-7 playoff round.

The bottle doesn't get a number on The List simply because I couldn't have been paying much attention as I grabbed the bottle because we just drank the '06 Burrowing Owl Syrah last week and added it to The List at #1899. There actually is a bit of a story but I suppose it all comes back to small print on the labels and the fact that I'm getting older and the eyes don't do so well with that small print. I thought I'd grabbed the '05 when we started off the series. Silly me.

I think that, come this Fall, we're going to be hearing much the same story about the Canucks - that they're just getting too old and that they can't be as competitive as they were four and five years ago. At least, this Syrah still had some legs to it. My Delectable note said "Brilliant, fruit-filled nose upon opening (but sadly, it diminished over time). Still exhibited nice body and integrated structure (more than the Canucks did while I was watching the game). "

Obviously, we were all hoping that the Canucks would take the series and have a nice long run into the playoffs. I was already lining the BC Rieslings for the second round.

Heavy sigh.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Winning Wine. Winning Game.

I kind of doubt that tonight's choice in wine had anything to do with the Canucks' performance, but we were in awe of this wine and the Canucks were pretty awesome themselves on the ice.

1905.  2003 Sandhill - Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

At the time I grabbed this bottle, I knew it was a Lt. Governor's Award winner but I didn't know that the '03 Small Lots Syrah was not only the Syrah/Shiraz of the Year at the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards but it was also named Red Wine of the Year at the same competition. Quite the pedigree. Winemaker - and all around good guy - Howard Soon, thought that the 2003 would be a great follow-up vintage to the equally decorated 2002 Small Lots Syrah and boy was he bang on the money.

We were very pleasantly surprised at the longevity of this Syrah. Despite being fully caught up in a very entertaining hockey game, I made a small note on the wine on Delectable and it read, "In awe that this '03 has such staying power. Nose. Fruit. Ripe tannin. Acidity. Length. Yowzah!" I don't make nearly as many notes as I should with the wines we drink but this one was about as glowing as I get. I also guess that, at least on this occasion, my palate agreed with some judges at a couple big competitions involving BC wines. That's not necessarily always the case.

Unfortunately, there were only 248 cases of this Syrah made - and this was our last bottle. When Howard called this a "Small Lots" wine, he wasn't joking.

Finishing the last sips from Boo's and my glasses was a sad event. At least the Canucks played their best game of the series so far and managed a win over the Flames. So, we weren't left crying into our empty glasses. Our boys are still behind the 8-ball as far as the series goes and they still can't lose a game, but they do live to fight another day and we get to open at least one more BC Syrah.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yikes - Some Things Are Easier to Swallow

Another Canucks/Flames playoff game, another BC Syrah.

It's Game 4 of the series and our Canucks haven't exactly been taking it to the upstart Flames. Game 4 is going to be rather pivotal and the Canucks were heading into the game down two games to one.

Unfortunately, the wine was far better than the game.

1904.  2009 Le Vieux Pin Syrah (Okangan Valley VQA)

If memory serves, I picked up a couple bottles of this '09 vintage after a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting with Le Vieux Pin and its sister winery, La Stella. Indeed, I see that fellow BCWAS'er and fellow blogger, Russel Ball, wrote about that tasting and his Adventures in BC Wine post confirmed our tasting of the this Syrah. The wine wowed us then and it continued to work its magic now.

It was gratifying to see that the bit of ageing we'd given the bottle hadn't hurt it at all. It remained a big bodied wine with lots of fruit and a wonderfully long finish. I only wish that this description was just as applicable to the Canucks (but that wasn't the case tonight). This was only the second vintage of Syrah produced by Le Vieux Pin. So, I'm looking forward to seeing if the wines can get any better as the vines mature.

I'd also recalled the story that Russel recounted where the the winery's general manager, Rasoul Salehi, proudly advised us that this wine was breaking ground for them in Europe and how a Michelin-starred restaurant on the continent was selling this wine at €35 a glass. Pretty crazy seeing as how that's probably more than the full bottle went for over here. Not sure that I could afford a full bottle at those restaurant prices though. It would have to be a major treat - much like tickets to an actual Canucks game.

As mentioned, the wine was much better than the game. The Canucks lost the game by a 4-1 score and now their backs are against the wall. If they lose one more game to the Flames, their season is over - and I'm hardly ready for that given all the wines, Syrah and otherwise, that I have to open.

Here's hoping.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wine Wins & Hockey Losses

It's Game 3 between the Canucks and the Flames. So, that means it's also time for another BC Syrah - my grape of choice for this first round NHL playoff series. We were on our own tonight. No guests watching the game with us, trying to cheer on our squad. So, only one bottle to add to The List.

1903.  2008 Quinta Ferreira Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I was hoping that pulling a wine that won one of the 2011 Lt. Gov's Awards for Excellence in Wine would be worthy of showing some support to the Canucks - and, if nothing else, my hope was that it would be tasty enough to make us forget how the game was going (because even though I'm hopeful for the team, I'm not betting the farm on this year's Canucks and their playoff start so far).

Unfortunately, it turned out that the wine was better than the hockey game.

The night's Syrah jumped out of the glass with a bright, bold bouquet and it had a whack of dark fruit on the palate. It almost seemed too big for an Okanagan Syrah. I only wish that the Canucks had come out on the ice with as much gusto. Calgary won the game 4-2 and, once again, our boys just didn't have the polish or finish to put away the Flames.

I'm likely drawing too much of an inference and reaching a tad to far for a relation between the game and the wine but we also found that the Syrah's finish was a bit out of sorts with the rest of the wine's profile. The acidity on the finish was just a bit out of balance - not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the wine but still enough to liken it to the Canucks' out of sorts finish.

Maybe I need to pre-taste the wine before the start of the next game in the series. After all, I wouldn't want to upset the cosmic balance of wine and hockey outcomes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

(Benjamin) Bridging the Country

Now that I'm into the last 100 bottles before I hit the blog's stated goal of 2001, I'm hoping to open a healthier proportion of nicer bottles than we usually would - particularly during the middle of the week when it's just dinner at home. I figure this is a great place to start because I've been waiting close to a couple of years just to get my hands on a bottle of tonight's wine, let alone get to knock it back.

I don't think I would have known about the wine or the winery had we not, by happenstance, been sharing a table at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society winery dinner with Matt Lane - also known as @champagnelane on his Twitter handle.  I published a post about that dinner - an AWAS tribute to Peter Lehmann after he passed away - but what I didn't say in that post is that Matt has a passion for bubbly, particularly Champagne, and he advised us that he thought Benjamin Bridge - hailing out of all places, Nova Scotia - produced sparkling wines that rivalled some of the best of France.

Now, Boo and I had taken a quick "guided" tour of three or four wineries in the Gaspereau region of Nova Scotia when we visited Halifax in 2008 but I don't recall anyone mentioning Benjamin Bridge at all. And, heaven forbid that Nova Scotian wines would ever make it all the way across the country to be listed for sale in BC. When I saw a notice saying that some of the winery's Brut had actually made its way to BC liquor stores, I ran out to grab a couple of bottles.

Tonight we got to pop the cork.

1902.  2009 Benjamin Bridge Brut (Nova Scotia)

The winery saw its naissance around the turn of the last century. In 1999, the 60 acres that makes us the winery lands were purchased and, in the following years, the lands were cleared and studied and the first blocks of vines were planted. The winery's website explains that those studies determined that the Gaspereau is "one of the rare grape-growing regions with a growing season remarkable similar to Champagne. The valley's geography and cool climate foster extremely low natural cropping levels - leading to a precious, expensive yield of grapes with rich flavours, texture and length."

The inaugural release of a Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine was in 2004 and the production of and praise of the wine has been building ever since. The Brut is made in the traditional méthode classique; however, the fruit going into the wine are largely foreign to growers in Champagne. While a quarter of the grapes are Chardonnay, and therefore traditional to Champagne, the balance is made up of two grapes commonly grown in the Gaspereau: L'Acadie Blanc (57%) and Seyval Blanc (18%) and, although you may have never heard of them, both grapes merit reference in Jancis Robinson's tome, Wine Grapes.

The wine is aged three years on its lees, resulting in a richness on the palate. We were surprised by the surprisingly bright citrus notes though. The wine was full of tart grapefruit and lime. It could have been a sipper on its own and it was a good contrast to some rich halibut cheeks but I think it was at its best paired with some soft cheeses that we brought out for dessert. Personally, I would have loved a little more mouthfeel from an amplified mousse but I'm thrilled to have had a chance to try such an up and comer.

An added bonus is that I get to add both the L'Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes to my Wine Century Club tally - although I'm somewhat surprised by that as I know we've had both grapes previously. I suppose it must have been before I started keeping track on this blog. This brings me up to 178. Who knows, maybe I can hit 200 and a doppel membership before I reach my goal on this blog.

Can it be any wonder why I so love this Odyssey of trying wines of all types from all regions? Here's a renowned bubbly from a tiny little region in Atlantic Canada and I get two "new" grape varieties to boot. I hope to keep 'em coming is all I can say.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Landmarks, Playoffs & the Final Stretch

I suppose it's only fitting that I should hit another landmark number on The List during this latest Canucks playoff run. Of course, regular readers know that the premise behind this blog is to drink 2001 unique wines and tell some of the tales behind the wine or behind the occasion at which they were consumed - and by whom.

Well, we're hitting the last century mark before reaching those magical final numbers. Hitting numbers 1900 and 1901 tonight means that there's only another hundred bottles to go. I think that qualifies as a "final stretch."

Our own playoff run, if you will.

Knowing that tonight was a big one for both the Canucks and the blog, Boo and I asked Shelback and Chewbacca to come over and watch the second Canucks - Flames game. And, of course, to knock back a little BC Shiraz seeing as how that's the blog's wine theme for this playoff series.

Much to everyone's dismay, the Canucks suffered a last minute loss in the first game. So, both the girls and I brought out some heavy hitters for tonight's game. Chewbacca also brought along her blow-up Johnny Canuck punching bag. That way, if we didn't like either the wine or the way the game was progressing, we could take our frustrations on something other than each other.

1900.  2009 Orofino Syrah (Similkameen Valley)

1901.  2011 Black Hills Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Orofino is one of my favourite wineries in the province and, of course, Black Hills is the winery behind Nota Bene, one of the most iconic wines produced in the Okanagan. I wouldn't go so far as to say the Syrah is the best known focus or even the varietal that either winery wants to hang its hat on but you can pretty well bet that any wine from either winery is going to be a well-made, good sip.

Luckily, the wines lived up to their billing and - even more so to our liking - the Canucks put together a far more convincing game against Calgary. It was a 4-1 win for the Canucks over the Flames and the series is back to being tied - at one game apiece.

The problem (if you want to call it that) was that we were so caught up in the excitement of the game that we neglected to make any tasting notes or take any other pictures of the wine or the evening. We did take a quick straw poll of the four us though and the Orofino was a consensus favourite over the Black Hills. Naturally, that order could change on any given evening or given different vintages - particularly if we were tasting similar vintages. The '09 vintage was warmer than the '11 in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. So, it could make a lot of sense that the '09 was the bigger wine with more fruit on it.

I'm simply glad that we had the chance to try both wines, that the Canucks won and, of course, that I'm now into the final 100 wines on this little wine Odyssey. The big goal is in sight. See you at Game 3.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A New Series of Playoff Wines

With all of the changes and upheaval happening last year, I'm not so sure that I expected to see the Canucks make the playoffs this time around but here they are and they actually made it in fine fashion. I know it's early, but hopes are pretty high that our boys could even make a bit of a run of it.

For the first so many years of this blog, I had a bit of tradition of picking a BC winery and opening one of their bottles during each of the Canucks' games when possible. The team didn't make the playoffs last year and Boo and I were vacation both of the two previous years that the Canucks made the playoffs. So, the tradition has fallen a bit out of sync.

But the boys are back in the playoffs this year and I'm ready to roll. I've decided on a slightly different twist this year around. Instead of featuring wines from only one winery during each series, I'm going with a different varietal for each series that the Canucks make it to. Seeing as how there have been a whack of awards given to and heads turned by Okanagan Syrah/Shiraz lately, I figure this is a great place to start.

1899.  2006 Burrowing Owl Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Much like your team entering into the playoffs, you never really know what you're going to get when you open a bottle that's got a bit of age on it. The jury is still out on the ageability of BC wines; so, for an '06, we were off to an excellent start with this bottle. There was a brilliant, fruit-filled nose and the wine was still exhibiting nice body and an integrated structure - not all that bad as descriptors for a hockey team as well.

To add to this good start, the Canucks were up 1-0 over the Calgary Flames after two periods.

Unfortunately, the nose started to diminish the longer the bottle was open even though the wine was still intact. More unfortunate, however, was the fact that the Flames tied up the game in the third period and it appeared that we'd all be heading off to overtime when the Canucks gave the Flames a second goal and the win with less than a minute left in the period.

The loss on the ice left a far more sour taste in my mouth than the Burrowing Owl did but we'll have another Syrah in our glass come the start of Game 2.

Here's hoping that I'll be adding a lot of hockey-related wines over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Getty a Little Giggy (of is that "Jiggy?")

1898.  2006 M. Chapoutier Gigondas (Gigondas AOC - Rhône - France)

As much as I like the Rhône as a wine region in France (not that I've ever been there - but there's always hope), I don't drink Rhône wines as much as I might like to. Given that, maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised at how big and fruit forward this Grenache-dominant Gigondas was. If I hadn't opened the bottle myself, I could have easily been convinced that this was a big Aussie GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvèdre).

The exuberant extraction that's evident on the wine, with the pleasantly big nose and the dark fruit on the palate, makes me think that this is a wine made more in a modern style than one that strives for the nuances of terroir. I'm not going to complain though. I like a good whack of fruit in my glass.

Stylistically, Gigondas wines - and appellation requirements - are often compared to the near-by Châteaueuf-du-Pape region. The prices can be far more accommodating though - and who's going to disagree with that?

The M. Chapoutier website tells a brief little story about winemaking in the village of Gigondas - stating that the village was a winemaking area "up until the arrival of the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 20th Century. As a consequence of the disaster, Gigondas chose to turn towards olive growing. However, following the "Black Frosts" of 1956 which destroyed the greater part of its olive trees, Gigondas reverted to winegrowing," replanting the region with high quality vineyards. Even with the new outlook, it took 15 years before Gigondas was granted appellation status separate from the Côtes du Rhône Villages designation.

I'd never heard of the "Black Frosts" before. So, that was kind of neat to read. Guess it just goes to show that there are more wine stories out there than you can imagine - but discovering some of those stories is one of the main reasons behind this Wine Odyssey of mine. I say, "bring it on."